2011, G, 107 min. Directed by John Lasseter, Brad Lewis. Voices by Larry the Cable Guy, Owen Wilson, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard, John Turturro.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., June 24, 2011
Pixar’s new animated feature, Cars 2, vrooms onto the screen with turbocharged energy that never lets up until it reaches the finish line. The film, which posits a world where automobiles of every stripe are the only sentient life-forms, appears to have the same effect on little kids, whose eyes and ears will open to full throttle from the barrage of stimuli. But ask them what they just witnessed, and the odds are good that they’ll only be able to tell you that there were lots of races in lots of different cities – and, oh, maybe something about some spies and a sinister SUV. The film starts confusingly on some docks and oil rigs as new characters Finn McMissile (McCaine), a debonair spy in the mold of James Bond (were he actually an Aston Martin and not a human being), and Holley Shiftwell (Mortimer), a pert associate in an irresistible metal package, engage in some espionage and dramatic escapes. But that’s really only conjecture at the outset. We really have no idea who these characters are or what they’re doing. The action then returns to familiar Radiator Springs, where our pals from the original film – the hick tow truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) and the handsome race car Lightning McQueen (Wilson) – reunite when the latter returns home from the races. Cars 2 shifts its primary focus from Lightning to Mater, which provides the film with an abundance of hillbilly humor. (In fact, Mater is so unsophisticated and dumb that the spies mistake him for an accomplice because they assume his behavior must be a deep-undercover act.) In short order, Mater and Lightning are off to compete in the World Grand Prix race, a multilocation international event sponsored by the SUV Sir Miles Axlerod (Izzard), whose prerequisite for entry is that all the contestants use only his green Allinol fuel. As the cars travel around the world, we get to see some of the vibrant and detailed background work that is one of Pixar’s fortes. The neon lights of Tokyo and the landmarks of Paris and London are stunning to the eye. Sir Axlerod, however, has more nefarious motives, but the film’s cloak-and-dagger aspects never acquire a firm foothold and always take a backseat to the roar of the race cars. (Austin viewers, who are in the midst of their own local controversy about the Formula One racetrack currently under construction here, may find an extra dollop of nuance in the wrongdoings uncovered in Cars 2.) The film’s frenetic pace will keep the kids from getting bored but overall Cars 2 does not further Pixar’s previously pristine legacy. Cars 2 makes for a decent play date but is not an especially good movie.